The internet gives us new ways to connect with each other that we couldn’t imagine just 20 years ago. Instant communication through email, skype and social media is supposed to bring people together. It’s supposed to make keeping in touch easier, help spark new friendships, and help people rediscover old ones. It’s supposed to make the world a smaller place.
But does it?
Maybe not. Despite many people having hundreds of Facebook friends, humans can only manage a maximum of 150 actual relationships at a time. According to Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford, this magic number is the limit. We’re just not capable of having meaningful relationships with more than 150 people. The average Facebook user has close to 200 online friends and more than a few people have thousands.
It seems obvious that having hundreds of so-called friends online is an illusion. But is it a harmful one?
It turns out, social media creates a large network of superficial connections –but it comes at a cost. The more time people spend on social media, the less time they spend creating meaningful connections with the real people directly around them. At the end of the day, social media makes some people unhappy and lonely, despite having lots of online friends. So maybe social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But then again, social media and other Internet communication platforms like Skype do allow some people to reach across the globe and make real friendships as well.
Sarah and Paige are two perfectly normal, healthy girls – except they were both born with only one arm. Sarah lives in Indiana, Paige lives in New Zealand, but they’re incredibly close friends.
How did this happen?
With the video chat software Skype, bonding over the challenges of living life with one arm. Without Skype, they would have to face their unique challenges on their own, instead of together. Without Skype, they wouldn’t even know the other one existed. They wouldn’t have been able to share each other’s triumphs, or been there to make the hard days just a little bit easier. They wouldn’t be friends.
Maybe our culture of online social connection is slowly isolating some of us and making everyone lonelier and less happy. But for others, it’s the lifeblood of true friendship. And for some, it’s the only thing in the world that brings them together.